Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Quick hits: NASCAR, new room at the zoo and no problem for N.C. vineyards

First look at NASCAR Hall of Fame
"Design architects for the NASCAR Hall of Fame made an updated presentation to the Charlotte City Council Monday night. It was a 3-D look at the Hall of Fame and our first look at some of the interactive exhibits inside," according to News 14 Carolina.

"In the design, it shows all around the Hall of Fame from Brevard Street coming around to the great plaza. In the front, a large television, fountain, walk of fame and garden were present.

"At night, lights will illuminate the sides of the facility including some lighting that can be programmed to simulate an actual live race.

"Inside the hall, a first look of the exhibits and how fans can interact with the sport and their heroes were shown. It starts with the full throttle theater which gets fans into the experience. ..."

More room to roam
"A growing exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo will bring Africa closer to home," according to the Greensboro News & Record.

"The zoo is working on an $8.5 million expansion that will add more elephants, rhinos and antelope to the newly renamed Watani Grasslands exhibit.

"The exhibit, parts of which already are open, will be ready for a grand opening next spring.

" 'The visitors are going to benefit from seeing larger herds of animals and different age groups,' said Guy Lichty, curator of mammals at the zoo. 'There should be a lot of action.' ..."

Despite Easter freeze, vineyards will harvest grapes in 2007
"When an extended freeze struck over Easter weekend, Davidson County vineyard owners feared they might lose everything.

"Fortunately, things didn't turn out quite that badly," according to the Lexington Dispatch.

"Owners say grape yields will be down, and they will have to watch closely over the next few years to see if any of their vines suffered permanent damage. But unless something worse occurs, there will be a harvest this fall, and the fruit that is picked will produce new wines.

" 'All in all, we made out pretty well,' said Mark Friszolowski, the winemaker at Childress Vineyards in Lexington. 'Financially, this will be just a speed bump for us.' ..."

Friday, June 22, 2007

N.C. Birding Trail could lead to revenue boost

From the Associated Press:
"Dozens of sites known to birdwatchers as being packed with rare or popular bird species are now linked in a single trail that state officials are promoting as nature-theme tourism.

"Officials hope the North Carolina Birding Trail will give the state an economic boost. And they may be on the right track: a 2006 federal study found that 2 million people in North Carolina spent about $700 million on birdwatching activities, said Perry Sumner of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. ...

"When completed, the trail will include dozens of places throughout the state where visitors can look for more than 440 species. ..."

It's about time: Andy Griffith 'discovered'

"At the age of 81," writes Associated Press writer Martha Waggoner, "Andy Griffith has been discovered.

"Sure, he'll always be known as Sheriff Andy Taylor, the gentle father to son Opie and the gunless lawman in Mayberry who dispensed a homegrown wisdom on 'The Andy Griffith Show.' Or as disheveled, yet shrewd, Atlanta defense lawyer Ben Matlock.

"But he's now a breakout star of sorts in the critically acclaimed 'Waitress.' He's only a supporting character in a movie starring Keri Russell as Jenna, a top-notch pie maker trying to leave her brutish husband. But Griffith steals the show as the cranky owner of the diner where she works.

" 'I'm glad to be back,' he said. 'I loved working in the film, and I just thought it was actually wonderful.' ..."

Waggoner goes on to mention the critical acclaim that Griffith's work has earned. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morganstern calling Griffith an "inspired" casting choice: "An octogenarian who looks his age, and looks like he's enjoying it, this comic virtuoso is as commanding as ever, but with a new dimension of restraint; he gives Joe a sly kindness that grows less sly as the old man's fondness for Jenna deepens. The two of them are wonderful together."

Equally important to Griffith is the praise of his friends, including Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, who played Griffith's son, Opie, in "The Andy Griffith Show" -- which airs every day somewhere in the world, Griffith said.

"Ron Howard called me a few mornings ago. He and his wife had seen it and he wanted to tell me how much he liked it. And he thought I was good in it, too," Griffith said. "His father, Rance Howard, called a few days after that, that he had seen it and liked it very much." ...

Griffith is still looking for work. Asked when he'll get a part in a Ron Howard blockbuster, Griffith chuckles again and mentions an earlier phone conversation with Howard. "And he said, 'Sometime, it will happen.' I look forward to it when it does happen.

"At least Ronnie still knows that I'm a pretty good actor."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Orange Peel the center of rock world for 9 nights

It's being described as the biggest rock event to hit Asheville since Elvis played there in 1975, but in all honesty, it's even bigger than that.

The reunited Smashing Pumpkins' decision to do nine shows at the Orange Peel will make the "Paris of the South" the center of the rock world beginning Saturday.

"All 8,478 tickets sold in just minutes, in a burst of pure Pumpkins power that crashed an online ticketing service and frustrated many fans who were left empty-handed. But 20 percent of the tickets went to buyers in Asheville, and half were sold in North Carolina. Other buyers are traveling from as far as Canada, the Northeast and Midwest to see the band here.

"The Pumpkins are doing only a handful of U.S. shows, including a similar run at the legendary Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco and a few major American festivals," writes the Asheville Citizen-Times. 'This is huge for us,' said Karen Ramshaw of Public Interest Projects, which owns and operates The Orange Peel."

“It’s an automatic home run for Asheville,” said Mike Rangel, co-owner of the Asheville Brewing Co. brewpub and restaurant, just a few blocks from The Orange Peel. “It puts us up there with the big boys.”’ ...

Simply put, the band requested The Orange Peel, said music promoter Ashley Capps, of Knoxville, Tenn. ...

“We started the discussions two or three months ago,” he said. “They were already interested in The Orange Peel at that point. It’s testimony to The Orange Peel, and to the Asheville community. The region has been so supportive of live music. Asheville is such a cool town.”

While the band is not doing interviews, Capps believes that the Pumpkins were tuned in to Asheville. “From what I understand, they are excited about spending a couple of weeks” here, he said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Hollerin' Contest is one of a kind

In hindsight, I pretty much grew up in the epicenter of North Carolina's festival hotbed. Once a year, within just a few miles of my house, the following events took place: Mule Days in Benson; Farmer's Day in Coats; Denim Days in Erwin; and the Gen. Lee Celebration in Dunn. (That one's named for General WILLIAM C. Lee, the founder of the U.S. Army's paratrooper division and namesake of Lee Hall at North Carolina State University.)

But not too far away is the granddaddy of them all. The markers say it all: "Third Saturday in June." Yes, Spivey's Corner's National Hollerin' Contest is a snapshot of North Carolina heritage and Americana. Sadly, I've never actually made it to one. (Have you?)

This article from the Dunn Daily Record shows the impact the contest has had:

"The first Hollerin' Contest in 1969 attracted international media attention from as far afield as Japan, largely due to a press release from Mr. [Ermon] Godwin being sent out on the Associated Press wire. The first winner and runner-up appeared on the 'Tonight Show' with Johnny Carson in New York.

"Other highlights include the second event in which Slowpoke the possum, entered by its owner from Alabama who read about the contest in Sports Illustrated, won the Possum Relay. Slowpoke was to be Gov. Bob Scott's annual Thanksgiving possum dinner, but after a public outcry was returned by Wildlife officers to Raven Rock State Park. ...

"Mr. Godwin spearheaded an application in 1978 to host the 1984 Olympics that ultimately took place in Los Angeles, despite assurances by Mr. Godwin that a backyard pool could handle the swimming events. ...

"In 1982, Mr. Godwin offered Spivey's Corner up to host the Super Bowl. The proposal included the construction of a Holler-day Inn and a Hollerdome. Although he was turned down, the scheme netted the community airtime during the Super Bowl half-time show on NBC in 1983. The slot lasted 37 seconds, in a year when advertisers were charged $400,000 for 30 seconds - which would cost $2.6 million today.

"The early '80s saw President Ronald Reagan decline an offer to judge the Hollerin' Contest (he replied though, wishing Mr. Godwin and the other 48 residents of Spivey's Corner well). ...

"Now the event coordinator is Wayne Edwards and in true Ermon Godwin-promotional style he said he hopes President George Bush will attend the event, if not this year, then next.

"I believe the president would enjoy it," Mr. Edwards told the paper. "Spivey's Corner is a quiet place where we still celebrate life, liberty and the American way. Hell, he could bring the whole crowd. We're getting a helicopter pad. If he can't make it this year, he could come the next."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ruth Graham: A 'beacon of spiritual truth'

The Asheville Citizen-Times has a wonderful spread on the passing of Ruth Bell Graham.

"Spiritual. Sensitive. Devoted. Loving. Funny.

"When talking about Ruth Bell Graham, who died Thursday at 87, the list of adjectives could go on and on," says the newspaper. "But it wouldn’t be complete without the word 'tough.' ...

"While she may be best known as the wife of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham, Ruth Graham, who was born June 10, 1920, more than made her own mark as an author, poet and beacon of spiritual strength.

" 'My wife Ruth was the person to whom I would go for spiritual guidance,' Billy Graham said Thursday, after his wife’s death. 'She was the only one in whom I completely confided. She was a great student of the Word of God. Her life was ruled by the Bible more than any individual I have ever known.'

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

U.S. Open to return to Pinehurst

Calling Pinehurst No. 2 one of the "core" golf courses for the U.S. Open, the U.S. Golf Association formally announced Monday that the 2014 Open will be played at "No. 2." It will be the third time in 15 years the course will host the tournament.

"Pinehurst waited 99 years to host its first U.S. Open in 1999," writes Stuart Hall. "But the success of that event, won by the late Payne Stewart, and a return trip in 2005, which was won by Michael Campbell, has made Pinehurst a growing favorite among USGA officials. ...

"Although the USGA has no formal rotation of courses that host the U.S. Open, unlike the Royal and Ancient Golf Club does with the British Open, a third national championship in such a short span validates the association's success with Pinehurst. No other course has hosted three U.S. Opens in a shorter span of time."

Chicago Tribune: 'Cue Country (hint: It's North Carolina)

The Chicago Tribune has begun a series on barbecue across the U.S., and the series (sensibly) starts at the cradle of 'cue: North Carolina.

"There's an evangelical fervor for 'cue uniting residents of the Tar Heel state, who otherwise are deeply split on what that barbecue is. In the eastern counties, barbecue is a whole pig anointed with a little vinegar sauce. In the western reaches of the state, barbecue is pork shoulder dabbed with a tomato-based sauce.

"Carolinians don't budge much on this. They like what they grew up eating. And, they can be scrappy when pushed.

" 'It is, as you will find, every North Carolinian's God-given right to be reckoned an authority on the subject of barbecue,' wrote Terry Mancour for the online guide

"He wasn't kidding.

"Even the state's official tourism Web site,, warns visitors (we read that to mean mouthy Yankees heading to Florida on the interstates) to steer clear of this food feud.

" 'In this state it's best just to eat and enjoy barbecue, and make sure your mouth's too full to discuss it,' the Web site advises. ..."

The article also has some great Carolina recipes, like hushpuppies from Wilber's, Lexington (red) cole slaw and more.

Oh, and here's to some great research from Trib reporters Bill Daley and Donna Pierce. They've not only captured the Carolina 'cue culture, but all the tricks of the trade, too.

Monday, June 11, 2007

N.C.'s All-America Cities

Two more North Carolina cities have been named All-America Cities by the National Civic League, again establishing North Carolina as one of the leaders in this program.

And, personally, I'm equally proud this time around. The two winners this year from N.C. (out of 10 total nationwide) were Clinton (my mom's hometown) and Hickory (my dad's hometown).

"We’re just elated,” said Clinton Mayor Starling to the Sampson Independent. “Words can’t describe how we feel.” Clinton won for the first time.

Hickory, however, joins Asheville and Laurinbug as a rare three-time winner (less than 30 nationwide).

“We’re on top of the world right now,” Mayor Rudy Wright told the Hickory Daily Record.

By the way, below is a list of all the past winners from North Carolina. (I've made my own updating to the list, since the NCL site has not.)

There's a lot in common with these cities (hint, hint).

Asheville, 1969, 1997
Asheville-Buncombe County, 1951
Charlotte, 1968 [Parents met here and first lived here]
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 1990
Clinton, 2007 [Mother's hometown]
Concord, 2004
Dunn, 1989 [MY hometown]
Durham, 1982-83
Fayetteville, 1984-85, 2001 [Grandfather's hometown]
Gastonia, 1963, 2000
Greensboro, 1966, 1991
Hamlet, 1990
Hickory, 1967, 1986-87, 2007 [Father's hometown]
High Point, 1962
Jacksonville, 1992 [Was born here; family lived here multiple times]
Kinston, 1988 [Lived here as a child]
Laurinburg, 1956, 1967, 2003
Lumberton, 1970, 1995
Mt. Airy, 1994
New Bern, 1989 [Sister lives here]
Raleigh, 1974-75 [Educated here, current home town]
Rockingham, 1979-80
Rocky Mount, 1969, 1999
Salisbury, 1961
Shelby, 1970
Statesville, 1997 [Parents lived here; sister born here]
Tarboro, 1976-77
Washington, 1993
Wilmington, 1965
Wilson, 1972, 2003
Winston-Salem, 1959, 1964

Friday, June 08, 2007

USA Today: BBQ joints keep the flame burning bright

From USA Today:

It isn't even noon and already a line has formed outside the order window at Grady's Barbecue, a 10-table joint awash in burnt orange laminate and the pungent aroma of wood smoke.

Owner Steve Grady, 72, has been here since 1 a.m., laboring out back in the small white cinderblock pit house, where two whole pigs are blistering over a bed of oak and charcoal.

There are secrets to the arduous preparation and to how they achieve what Grady's wife, Gerri, calls the "zing" in the barbecue sauce, a recipe handed down from Grady's granddad. They won't reveal those secrets, but they will divulge a psychic component to producing outstanding barbecue.

"It's loving what you do," Gerri Grady says.

From the wooded byways of North Carolina's fertile tobacco country to the strip malls of its burgeoning suburbs, barbecue isn't just something you heap on a soft white bun and serve with a side of slaw.

In these parts, slow-roasted pork smells of heritage, history and home. It ignites passions and sparks rivalries. And with the creation this year of a statewide barbecue trail, it's attracting tourists, too.

Ocracoke's No. 1!

Ya gotta like this.

"Move over, Florida and Hawaii," writes the Associated Press. "Your beaches are no longer the best. The nation's best place to get a tan and enjoy the ocean's waves in 2007 is North Carolina's Ocracoke Island, a place so remote that even people in the offices of 'Dr. Beach' - Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman [and N.C. State grad] - didn't know where to find it on the map."

"It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here," Leatherman said from Ocracoke, the first beach not in Florida or Hawaii to earn the top spot in his annual ranking of the nation's top 10 spots on the shore.

Technically, it's Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach that is the nation's best. But Leatherman said there's little that separates those 300 yards of postcard-perfect sand from the rest of the island, almost all of which is protected from development as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

"Here, you have 14 miles of unspoiled, undisturbed barrier beach," said Leatherman, director of Florida International's laboratory for coastal research. "Where do you ind that in the world?"

Ocracoke is at the southern end of the Outer Banks, the fragile chain of barrier islands along North Carolina's coast known as the "graveyard of the Atlantic." Accessible only by boat or private plane, there are only about 800 full-time residents of the island where the pirate Blackbeard met his untimely death at the hands of the Royal Navy in 1718.

This rise to the top spot shouldn't be too surprising. "Dr. Beach" has consistently ranked Ocracoke highly on his list. The island ranked No. 3 in 2006 and No. 2 in 2005. But, by winning this year, it will be retired from consideration, along with other past champions.

"Earning the No. 1 ranking on the 'Dr. Beach' list is usually a tourism booster," writes the AP. "When the north beach at Florida's Fort De Soto was named the best in 2005, Leatherman said, the number of hits on a related Web site jumped in one day from 1,000 to 10,000. ..."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Quick hits: Shells, Scruggs and slices

Bill to preserve oyster shells moves ahead
"The state legislature is a step away from preventing a repeat of the oyster controversy that saw the N.C. Department of Transportation shelled with criticism earlier this year," according to the Wilmington Star-News.

"On Tuesday, the state House approved, 115-1, its final version of a bill that would prohibit any state government agency from using oyster shells in landscaping or highway beautification projects. ...

"The passage of the law will bring to an end an episode that began in March when roadside crews dumped 2,000 bushels of shells as part of a beautification project near the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge.

"The scene was also piled with irony as just a few hundred feet away was a popular drop-off site that is part of a statewide effort to collect shells for use in programs to restore the state's oyster fishery.

"As the shells went down, other state agencies were trying to increase awareness of oyster recovery efforts and the General Assembly had banned shells from landfills and was working on establishing oyster hatcheries at the state's aquariums. ..."

Pickin' and grinnin'
"Bluegrass great Earl Scruggs was in attendance as he and fellow Shelby native Don Gibson were honored by both the House and Senate [on Tuesday at the General Assembly]," according to the Associated Press. "The chambers passed a resolution celebrating Scruggs and Gibson, the country performer and songwriter who died in 2003, for their contributions to the arts and the prestige they brought to their home state.

" 'I'm really delighted and pleased to be here,' Scruggs told the Senate. 'My heart's always in North Carolina.'

"A number of lawmakers rose to praise the performers, with only Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, finding a downside to the proceedings: 'There's one thing missing from this bill -- a requirement for Earl Scruggs to play for the House today.' ..."

Take a Pinehurst 'sabbatical'
"How good a golfer could you become if you could take time off and really work on your game, with top-notch instruction, equipment and world-class places to play? For just a thousand bucks a day, you can now find out," blogs Larry Olmsted on USA Today.

"I get a lot of bizarre press releases and package 'deals' across my desk these days, but this one, from Pinehurst Resort, really stood out. On the one hand it is a lot of money, and very few readers will even be able to consider it halfway seriously. On the other hand, who wouldn’t want to try it? Especially since this is no gimmick destination, but rather the nation’s most storied golf resort, the first destination golf resort in the United States, the only place that has hosted the PGA Championship, the US Open and the Ryder Cup, and the closest thing we have to St. Andrews, an entire charming town that lives and breathes the spirit of the game.

"So what is this package? It is the Pinehurst Golf Sabbatical, and it was introduced to celebrate this year’s 100th birthday of the legendary Number Two course, the most revered of the eight layouts that make Pinehurst the nation’s largest golf resort, and the second largest in the world. Number Two hosts all the big tournaments and was the seminal work of Donald Ross, considered by many the greatest American designer (at least after he moved here from his native Scotland, living out his entire adult life in Pinehurst in a house alongside the course). ..."

Monday, June 04, 2007

Experts: Hurricane could annihilate the OBX

In "Deep Impact," a meteor screams toward Earth, plunges into the Atlantic off of Cape Hatteras, sending a tidal wave toward the Eastern Seaboard that will eventually make its way to the Ohio Valley region, virtually (I assume) destroying much of the Eastern U.S. coast.

Now hurricane experts say that a major hurricane could have devastating affects on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

" 'If we had a Katrina-sized storm, 75 percent of these islands could be gone,' said Stan Riggs, a geologist at East Carolina University who has studied the Outer Banks for four decades. 'You can count on it cleaning the clock,'" Riggs told the Associated Press.

Dozens of hurricanes have hit the Outer Banks since the English landed on Roanoke Island in 1585. Today, though only about 35,000 people live here permanently, each year some 5 million visit the islands that jut out into the Gulf Stream as if they were inviting Atlantic hurricanes to strike.

In the place where the Wright brothers first took to skies, they spend the summer in vacation and rental homes — some with a dozen bedrooms, private pools and elevators — that have a tax-assessed value of about $27 billion.

But Riggs and other scientists fear the right hurricane — an especially powerful storm packing a deep surge — could drown the islands with sea water, smash buildings with 25-foot waves and force map makers to redraw the state’s signature coastline.

Riggs said such a storm would break the chain of long, narrow islands into a perforated series of many smaller spots of sand. Instead of Pamlico Sound to the west, sailors would find Pamlico Bay. ...

Yet North Carolina’s Division of Emergency Management estimates that, even if a Category 5 hurricane turns toward the Outer Banks, several hundred defiant homeowners will try to ride the storm. Many will die as the violent weather destroys structures across the islands and carves several new inlets where land now stands up from the sea, said Orrin Pilkey, a professor emeritus of geology at Duke University. ...

Charlotte icon comes crumbling down

It was the first tangible sign that Charlotte -- and the rest of the Carolinas, for that matter -- was stepping up into the big time. Today, it is no more.

The old Charlotte Coliseum came down in an explosion on Sunday, and with it memories of sold-out Charlotte Hornets seasons, Zo's big shot, the Final Four, concerts (such as U2!) and other big events.

"The Charlotte Coliseum is like an entertainer who thrived for a few years and then faded," wrote Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer.

"Many kids born in 1988, the year the Coliseum opened, recently finished their freshman year of college. The Coliseum never had such a future. The building was quickly outmoded, a victim of too many seats and too few skyboxes. ...

"It was great once, and so were we. Our first major-league team played there, and no matter what the Carolina Panthers or Charlotte Bobcats accomplish, we will never be so blissfully naïve again.

"Professional sports are new once. In the early years, it was never the Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte. It was us. We loved those teams. In the early years the rosters were full of good guys who could talk and would talk and wanted to be in Charlotte almost as much as we wanted them to be.

"We had no idea what we had. The players had no idea what they had. ...

"I remember how the division between those on the court and those off it seemed to blur, and how we'd walk out of the building smiling, and how we thought those times would never end."

Friday, June 01, 2007

'Little Charleston of the Mountains' celebrating 200 years

The Village of Flat Rock -- called the "Little Charleson of the Mountains" because of all the Charlestonians who built summer homes there in the 1800s -- is celebrating 200 years, according to the Pisgah Mountain News.

"Though the Cherokee first inhabited Flat Rock and next pioneer settlers who obtained land grants, the 'Great Flat Rock' first appeared in public land records in 1807," said the paper.

Several events are planned to celebrate the bicentennial.

The Flat Rock Bicentennial Celebration will be held Saturday. The rain date is Sunday. Events include an ice cream social from noon to 4 p.m. on the grounds of the Flat Rock Village Hall.

Four hours of entertainment are scheduled, including individual musical artists, the Kenmure Chorus, storytellers, face painting and clowns.

Hot dogs, food and drinks will be available for purchase, as well as bicentennial T-shirts. Storyboards highlighting Flat Rock history will be on display.

The events will be held at Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue, Village Hall, Singleton Centre, Rainbow Row and Flat Rock Post Office Building.

Rev. Graham's legacy immortal

Perhaps no other North Carolinian has had the impact on the world as the Rev. Billy Graham. Heck, perhaps no other American has.

On Thursday, his library in Charlotte was dedicated. And it was quite the event.

Former President George H.W. Bush described the Rev. Billy Graham as “a spiritual gift to all of us” before "trembling in an uncharacteristic wave of emotion," according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, which ran a series of articles on Friday.

“We gather to celebrate the life and work of a man I do believe is America’s pastor,” Bush said.

Graham — using a walker and his son Franklin’s shoulder for stability — showed some of his old magic at the microphone in front of 1,500 invited guests gathered to dedicate a library in his honor.

“I feel like I’ve been to my own funeral, listening to all these speeches,” said Graham, 88. “I feel terribly small and humbled by it all.”

Graham and former Presidents Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter joined on a stage within the shadow of the $27 million library, which traces Graham’s path from farmer’s son to famous evangelist and friend to more than four decades of presidents.

About 200,000 people a year are expected to tour the Billy Graham Library after its opening Tuesday in Charlotte, where Graham was raised. It was built with the intention of carrying on his ministry.

The presidents on hand seemed to enjoy the event, according to the paper.

Former President Bill Clinton, in discussing being on stage with Jimmy Carter: “They used to say George Bush and I were an odd couple, but here, we may be the odd couple — two Southern Baptist Democrats.”

When Bush rose to speak, he looked at Clinton and said, “How quickly Clinton dumped me for Carter — did you notice that? We’ve traveled all over the world together, and we come to Charlotte and he dumps me. I don’t get it.”

The crowd roared.